Do You Speak Chameleon?
Using Body Language to Detect Signs of Stress and Illness
Though chameleons don’t vocalize like most other animals, that doesn’t mean they aren’t effective at communicating. Chameleons send three main types of messages to predators and their fellow chameleons: territorial messages, receptive messages and deterrent messages. They change their body language and coloration to communicate.
Gaping and Hissing Indicate Stress
A severely stressed chameleon may gape, bite or hiss at any potential predators or threats. If your chameleon has ever gaped or hissed at you, that’s a sign he feels fear, anxiety or stress around you. If this is the case, limit your interaction with your chameleon, provide a safe living environment with plenty of hiding spots and do not handle him unless it is necessary.
Be Aware of Injuries and Illness
Chameleons experiencing pain and discomfort may also hiss or bite. Chameleons may have an injury on their legs or bodies that you don’t immediately notice. Eye infections and other illnesses can also cause a chameleon to behave with hostility toward you. Keep your cage clean at all times to prevent the chameleon from becoming sick or injured, and if you have any reason to suspect illness or injury, always contact a licensed reptile veterinarian immediately.
It’s All in How You Stand
Your chameleon will change his body language and posture to send messages. For example, if a chameleon wants to guard his territory from a trespasser or repel a competitor male, he will usually turn to the side to help himself look larger and more intimidating.
Communicating With Color
Contrary to popular belief, chameleons do not automatically change colors or patterns to match their surroundings. Instead, the main reason chameleons change colors is to communicate.
Chameleons are largely solitary animals, except when they are mating. Males will almost always keep other males out of their territories. The first stage of a territorial interaction between two rival males is usually for them both to display the brightest coloration possible.
Meanwhile, a female can indicate her interest in mating by changing to a receptive or non-receptive coloration, depending on her reproductive state. A female chameleon who is carrying eggs will often adopt a more exaggerated form of her non-receptive coloration. Since a female chameleon can lay eggs even without the presence of a male, color change is one indicator to be mindful of if you have a female chameleon.
Chameleons often adopt dark or sharply contrasting patterns when attacked by a predator, as well, presumably to send the message that they are dangerous or unpleasant prey.
As cold-blooded animals, chameleons can also regulate their body temperatures by changing colors. They turn darker when they need to warm up, and paler when they need to cool off.
Knowing how your chameleon communicates and understanding his or her mood changes is the first step toward becoming a more effective chameleon keeper and ensuring your pet remains healthy and happy.